Public Safety Ministries has a mission to provide and promote Spiritual Health and Fitness in all public safety professions; Law Enforcement, Fire Service, Emergency Medical Service and Military. Having spent the last 30 years working in Law Enforcement, my focus obviously has been directed at that discipline. However, the issues and challenges we face are clearly universal to all these professions. With permission, below I share a message that was written by a colleague who works as a full time chaplain serving those in the EMS profession. It contains some of the “universal truths” that I often speak of that impact those of us whose lives are embedded in the “human condition”.
“Growing Into Your Profession”
by Russ Myers, Allina Medical Transportation Chaplain
Cumulative stress, critical incidents, and the emotional weight of our work are familiar to all of us whose jobs involve caring for people in crisis. We know how important it is to be intentional about taking care of ourselves and keeping our lives in balance.
So it may come as a surprise when we begin to notice that we’re not bothered as much by difficult cases as we used to be. We may wonder, “am I getting cold and calloused?” A fire fighter EMT spoke about having clear memories of a call he was on more than a dozen years ago, while the details of a more recent, equally challenging call were not so clear. He asked, “should I be concerned?” Others have made similar comments, and asked the same questions.
A family member of a patient who was coding in the ICU at United Hospital noticed that I was able to be with his loved one without appearing to be in much distress myself. He commented, “I suppose this kind of work gets easier over time.” Easier? No, I told him, it doesn’t get easier, but it does get more familiar.
In response to these conversations, I dug a little deeper into it this year. One of the things I’ve come to recognize is that our responses to critical incidents involve more than one emotion. A normal response to loss is to feel grief or sadness. A typical response to trauma is to be frightened. With experience, the “fear factor” is less than it used to be. Situations that used to scare me aren’t so scary any more. I still experience some initial anxiety as I make the mental shift necessary to respond to a crisis. I notice a heightened sense of awareness, faster heartbeat and other physical responses, but I’m not as frightened.
I believe that, with experience and support from co-workers, family and friends, we can increase our skill at coping with stress and trauma. The fear element is reduced. We have a broader base of experience to draw on, and even though the current situation isn’t exactly the same as something we’ve seen before, we gain confidence in our abilities. It’s not easier, but it is more familiar.
Should you be concerned if you don’t get overwhelmed by a challenging call? I don’t know. One way to explore it is to ask, do you experience normal emotional responses in other areas of your life? Do you tear up at sad movies, laugh, cry, and care for your loved ones in appropriate ways? If yes, this is healthy and you’re probably doing OK.
Others may interpret our lack of fear as meaning that our jobs get easier over time. We may still be sad, but not afraid. If you notice that you’re able to be in the midst of a very tough situation without feeling overwhelmed, take it as a clue that you’re growing into your profession. There will be times when your ability to cope gets stretched, and I encourage you to take advantage of support resources and critical incident debriefings. But there will be other times when you recognize that you do feel sad about the situation, but it’s within the scope of your normal work, and you’re going to be OK.
Russ Myers, D.Min., BCC, is chaplain at United Hospital and Allina Medical Transportation in St. Paul, Minnesota. In his work with Emergency Medical Services he provides staff support to EMTs and paramedics.